Preview: This is it! Scotland’s literary talent in the spotlight at cabaret event

Can’t wait to attend this Literature Alliance Event tomorrow!

Best-selling author Louise Welsh and award-winning poet William Letford are set to headline an inaugural literary cabaret taking place this month, which shines a light on the nation’s literary scene in 2017.

                                      Author, Louise Welsh

The fast-paced, 90-minute show – called This Is It! – will highlight the year’s literary happenings across five strands – publishing, book festivals, school and public libraries, writers, and the international perspective.

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs will open this first public event from Literature Alliance Scotland (LAS) – the nation’s largest network of literature and languages organisations – on Wednesday 23 November from 7pm at Central Hall, Edinburgh.

Speakers include, respectively, Canongate Books’ Publishing Director Francis Bickmore, Adrian Turpin, Artistic Director of Wigtown Book Festival, and Pamela Tulloch, Chief Executive of Scottish Libraries Information Council.

Poet William Letford, who hails from Stirling, will cover writer development and perform a reading of his poem This Is It from which the event takes its name.

                Poet, William Letford

Closing the show will be Glasgow-based author, Louise Welsh, who will speak about Scotland’s books and literature on the international stage as well as the importance of literary exchange between nations.

In addition, attendees will be able to browse and buy books from Scotland’s writers and publishers courtesy of Blackwell’s Bookshop, Edinburgh while librarians from South Lanarkshire’s digital library programme ‘ACTIVEe’ will be on hand to demonstrate 3D printers which are now available in all of Scotland’s public libraries.

Peggy Hughes, Chair of LAS said: “With over 40 book festivals a year, ambitious new publishing houses such as 404ink emerging, stalwarts such as Birlinn celebrating 25 years, another Man Booker shortlisting for Ali Smith, Muriel Spark’s centenary on the horizon, not to mention the many, many Scottish books and authors that are going into the world every day and taking our stories and voices with them, it seemed high time that we took a moment to celebrate the wealth of our literature sector and shout about its cultural and social value.”
“At a time when Scotland’s Culture Strategy is being developed, it’s vital that we champion our sector and all the talented people working within and for it. Our literary cabaret is a chance for everyone with an interest in Scotland’s literature and book community to gather together and say, ‘This is it, this is a snapshot of what’s been happening this year’. It’s about carving out a space to celebrate the wonderful success, highlight the exciting potential and address the challenges. That’s why we’re so delighted that Fiona Hyslop is officially opening the event and giving this rich and vibrant sector the recognition it deserves.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland’s distinguished literary culture is a notable part of our national identity. It also attracts visitors to Scotland and raises our cultural profile around the world. “I am pleased that the Literature Alliance Scotland is extending its reach beyond its membership of key individuals and agencies which promote writers and publishers to engage with the public.

“We are doing all we can to support the literary sector to ensure this rich legacy is maintained and strengthened in future years. We do this through for example our support for Creative Scotland, literacy, libraries, festivals, Book Week Scotland, the First Minister’s Reading Challenge and the post of Makar.”

Jenny Niven, Head of Literature, Languages & Publishing, Creative Scotland, said: “We have a unique, distinctive and rich cultural asset in literature that not only makes an enormous impact to people’s lives in Scotland but also enhances our reputation internationally. From poets to storytellers, screenwriters and playwrights the quantity and quality of writing being published here is truly inspiring. This is It! and Literature Alliance Scotland creates an important opportunity to bring together authors, publishers, libraries, festivals and literary organisations, and champion the work being done to make literature more visible to a greater number of people. We look forward to continuing this work with Scottish Government, partner agencies and individuals to create the best conditions to support a thriving literature and publishing sector in Scotland and internationally.”

Tickets for This Is It! are £7 /£6 – https://this-is-it-literary-cabaret-2017.eventbrite.com/

Au Revoir Edinburgh International Book Festival

They say that all good things must come to an end. How I wish that wasn’t true! With the Edinburgh International Book Festival closing earlier this week, it was time to say goodbye to my happy place for another year. For me the festival represents everything that I love: words, books, storytelling and the city of Edinburgh itself.

On my last visit to the festival on Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing three amazing events. The first one was Hari Kunzru with David Mitchell – two brilliant and inspiring authors who I have long since admired. The informal chat about Kunzru’s new ghost story White Tears, was punctuated by music from the Delta Mississippi Blues, which made it all the more interesting and memorable.

My second event of the day was Sara Baume & Oddny Eir, two female author who use nature in their writing. Both Baume’s novel, A Line Made by Walking and Icelandic author Oddny’s debut, Land of Love and Ruins, sound utterly fascinating and I can’t wait to read them.

My last event of the day was Take Me to the River at the Baillie Gifford Imagination Lab. The talk featured YA author Claire McFall, who was there to discuss her novel Trespassers and Martin Stewart, whose debut novel Riverkeep is up for the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award. Chaired by children’s writer, Lari Don, the event explored the myth and folklore around death and loss in a light and quirky manner that went down very well with the audience.

When I left the festival to catch my train home, I took one last look around the beautiful gardens with a heavy heart.

Au revoir, Edinburgh International Book Festival. Until we meet again.

Beneath The Skin #BlogTour – Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates

I’m delighted to be taking part in a blog tour today to celebrate the release of Sandra Ireland’s gothic thriller Beneath The Skin. Set in Edinburgh, the novel centres on damaged ex-soldier Walt whose life becomes unexpectedly tangled with a cruel, calculating taxidermist named Alys. Today, Sandra shares her thoughts on why taxidermy still horrifies and fascinates us…

Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates by Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

beneath-the-skinTaxidermy is all a bit marmite. The mere mention of it provokes some very strong reactions! People are either fascinated by it, and keen to relate examples of ‘bad taxidermy’ they may have spotted, or even ‘bad taxidermists’ they may have met. Others will regard you with suspicion, as if you’ve just confessed to regularly dining on dormice. Even the dictionary definition of the word- ‘an arrangement of skin’- conjures up images of nightmarish Frankenstein-esque creations.

The truth is that this ancient art is enjoying something of an renaissance, thanks to the work of a new generation of young, predominantly female, artists. They are possibly the most unlikely candidates to fill the  role of  the traditional taxidermist.

Leading the field is Polly Morgan, the inspiration behind the character of Alys in my debut novel Beneath the Skin. Polly has a freezer full of birds and small mammals in her kitchen, When she shakes your hand, she is imagining the structures beneath the skin. She also sells bizarre and beautiful taxidermied creations for six-figure sums.

Emma Willats is an Aberdeen-based entrepreneur. With her background in anatomy, it was a small step into the world of taxidermy. Emma recently launched her business The Dapper Dead. She makes and sells sporrans and other accessories created from roadkill foxes , badgers and so on. Even the odd guinea pig has found its way into her products. In a recent interview she reveals, “ You don’t want them [the animals] to die, but if they’re dead, you want them.”

It is this passion, this desire to resurrect the dead that I personally find so intriguing. It has opened up a whole new layer of meaning in Beneath the Skin, with Alys’s ‘undead’ animals inhabiting the twilight world of Walt, her assistant, who is suffering from PTSD. We may be repelled by the notion of keeping these creatures alive, but our human nature means we are fascinated by it too.

This is borne out by the Victorian obsession with taxidermy. It fed into the preoccupation with death and mourning which prevailed in this era. Walter Potter, a hero of my character Alys, was a renowned taxidermist who created anthropomorphic dioramas to astound the viewing public. Think kittens dressed up for a wedding, or toads playing cricket. These arrangements are decidedly creepy to out tastes, but were hugely popular in their day, and not that far removed from Polly Morgan’s white rat in a wine glass. ( Title: ‘Rest a Little on the Lap of Life’, 2006).

Although our views on what is ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are constantly changing, I predict that taxidermy will remain an endless source of fascination for us. There’s something raw and primitive about it that calls to us. We like to act all squeamish; we love to be repulsed. It is a horror film we just cannot look away from…

As Alys would say, taxidermy isn’t for wimps!

About the Author

Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

Sandra Ireland is an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire. Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry. Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.

Web: www.sandrairelandauthor.com
Twitter: @22_ireland

 

About the Book

Beneath the Skin

Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis. His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go. Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim? And can he save himself?

Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.

 

 

Praise for Beneath the Skin…

“The debut novel from Sandra Ireland is an exceptional calling card.” The Courier

“Sandra Ireland shows an impressive skill at locating her reader’s empathy and drawing it out to make you both emotionally invested and totally hooked on the action.” Becky Hinshelwood, Books etc.

Powerful, unsettling, captivating.” Liz Robinson, Love Reading UK

Sandra’s debut novel, Beneath the Skin is available in both paperback and ebook. You can order a copy online here: Beneath The Skin

 

Sandra Ireland – Interview with author of Beneath the Skin

Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to get my hands on a preview copy of Sandra Ireland’s compelling debut novel Beneath the Skin. This beautifully written twisted thriller, featuring unhinged taxidermist Alys and ex-soldier and PTSD sufferer Robert “Walt” Walton, is a fascinating but disturbing read that will have you gripped right to the bitter end. I’ll be posting a full review of the novel in a few weeks to coincide with the release of the book, but in the meantime I decided to catch up with Sandra to find out what inspires her deliciously dark writing.


Where did the inspiration for Beneath the Skin come from?

I watched a documentary featuring Polly Morgan, a taxidermy artist. I was slightly freaked out about by the way she kept her specimens in a deep freeze, but it got worse! When she’s introduced to someone, she finds herself imagining their bone structure and all the things ‘beneath the skin’. I thought she would be a fascinating and disturbing (sorry, Polly!) character for a novel, and Alys was born. I should point out that Alys is entirely a creature of my imagination and not based on anyone!

Beneath the Skin is about former soldier Robert Walton’s journey after leaving the forces. What inspired you to write about the aftermath of war and what research did you do to get underneath the skin of a war veteran?

Walt came into the story after Alys. He was supposed to be a secondary character, but he developed a personality of his own. Although I had never contemplated writing from a male perspective, it seems to work. The idea of him being wounded made me think he would be a military man, and I’d been reading some modern war poetry which was very moving. This led me to do some research into PTSD and its treatment (art therapy, etc.) and I also read lots of combat diaries written on the front line. I interviewed my son’s friend, Ollie, who was in the Rifles for six years and served in Afghanistan. He gave Walt’s voice some authenticity, and insisted that he should also be in the Rifles!

Taxidermy features heavily in the book, is death and the preservation of it, is this something that has always interested you?

It’s something I became interested in, the more I developed the character of the taxidermist. I found the historical aspects of it fascinating. The Victorians were so keen to preserve things in death- it became almost cultish, and I think this is where we get our squeamishness from. Most people think taxidermy is very creepy and I’m sure that’s down to some very dodgy museum exhibits and small animals in glass domes! In the book, Alys’s hero is Walter Potter, a Victorian taxidermist who became famous for stuffing tiny kittens and having them play cricket, etc. This is totally abhorrent to us now, and I was interested in these changing notions of taste. Alys, of course, doesn’t even notice that others don’t share her passion for this sort of taxidermy!

One of the main characters in the book is Alys, a taxidermist, a character who is cruel and flawed in many ways. Do you enjoy writing characters who have a darker side to their nature?

I do enjoy it, but it’s quite tricky. You have to check constantly that they are acting ‘in character’, because they are unpredictable and often outside the writer’s experience. That said, it’s very liberating- there are no limits to the imagination!

Alys and Mouse’s difficult relationship added a really interesting dynamic to the book. Is writing about family struggles something that you enjoy?

Families fascinate me, because we have this idea that family members should always get along to some degree, with blood ties overcoming every obstacle. But real life isn’t like that- siblings have jealousies and unresolved issues, and fictional families should reflect that. My own family is boringly normal so it’s good to have a challenge!

Mouse was my favourite character in the book and her relationship with her son is so well observed. How does your own experiences of motherhood influence your writing?

I have two grown-up sons, but it seems like only yesterday they were eight, the same age as Mouse’s son, William. I think the experience of motherhood remains very fresh in the memory, so it wasn’t too difficult to imagine the interaction between Mouse and her child. And of course, maternal emotions don’t change when your kids leave home. You still experience worry, panic, guilt and all the rest of it!

The novel is a real page turner! How much planning did you have to do prior to writing, to create such a gripping novel?

Thank you! Writing a page turner was definitely one of my aims! I’m not a planner at all, which means I run into trouble when it comes to continuity and time frames. I carry the whole blueprint of the novel in my head. I know how it will end and what the characters have to experience, but other than the synopsis, none of it is written down. As I’m writing, I do pay particular attention to rhythm and pace. It’s the length and snappiness of the sentences that create the tension, more than the words themselves.

Beneath the Skin is your debut novel. Can you tell me a bit about what you’re writing now?

I was recently awarded funding from Creative Scotland to write my second novel, another psychological thriller, which is set in an old watermill. The funding has enabled me to undertake a residency at Barry Mill, Angus, so I’m on hand to observe the landscape, and research the folklore and traditions associated with milling. The novel is based around an old Border Ballad, which features dark deeds in the mill pond! It has a very modern twist.

Do you have a writing routine that you can tell us about?

I like to get up early and write before my brain clicks into domestic mode. I try to write 500 words every morning, which sometimes works out and sometimes doesn’t! I invariably end up on Twitter or Facebook, but that’s all part of the writing life too!

Beneath the Skin

You can read more about Sandra Ireland and her writing over on her website: www.sandrairelandauthor.com

Beneath the Skin will be published by Polygon on the 22nd of September. You can pre order a copy on Amazon.